While I mostly collect weird guitars, I also love Pez dispensers, old radios, records, and just about anything related to the Beatles. Two of those passions – weird guitars and the Fab Four – intersect here, a plastic acoustic guitar from the British Invasion emblazoned with the group’s likenesses.
I’ve wanted one of these for decades, but the price kept them out of reach until kismet, kindness and luck bestowed this very model upon me.
This toy guitar was made in 1964 by Selcol, a firm in England, under license by Mastro, an American company owned by Mario Maccaferri, the brilliant luthier who made the wonderful French flattops Django Reinhardt played in the 1930s.
Amid Europe’s political turmoil in the run-up to WWII, Maccaferri moved his shop to America just in time for a moratorium on using wood to build anything that wasn’t for the war effort.
He found success manufacturing clothing pins from plastic and eventually built an array of musical instruments – including drums, bongos and, yes, awesome guitars and ukuleles – from the material.
When my buddy and 8-Ball teammate guitarist Matt Turbin went to England last year for his daughter’s wedding, I jokingly asked him to pick me up one of these rarities. To my surprise, he found one on London’s Craigslist. Though it was missing its tuners and strings, it was in one piece, with vibrant graphics. And at just $150, it was a steal!
What’s truly bizarre is that this toy “New Sound Guitar,” as Selcol called it, is playable and sounds quite good. That’s surprising not only because it’s made of plastic but also because it’s a novelty made simply to cash in on the Beatles boom.
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
While it may not compare with pro examples, Maccaferri’s “Plastic Mac” has a scale length accurate to that of a soprano uke.
The frets are measured and molded into just the right position, and the bracing beneath the top is strategically placed into the plastic mold.
Finding new tuners wasn’t straightforward. Replacement parts aren’t available, and original tuners are rare and sell for between 50 and 75 bucks apiece. But as it happens, Maccaferri used the same parts on plastic instruments it built based on Disney characters (see below.)
For $15, I bought a Mickey Mouse ukulele on eBay, and after moving the tuners to the Selcol guitar – and paying $7 for multicolored strings – returned my Beatles ukulele to stock.
These sold for $5 in 1964. At the time I wrote this, two were on eBay for $2,500 and $5,000 bucks. Even beat-up examples command between $500 and $750, all of which makes the $172 I paid for my instrument a bargain.
WHY IT RULES
It’s Beatles memorabilia first and foremost, but it’s also a Plastic Mac. The first thing I played on it as soon as I got it assembled was McCartney’s version of “Something.” I almost cried.
Many thanks to Matt Turbin for making my tongue-in-cheek request a reality.
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